What Makes Italy the Second Healthiest Country in the World?

A man and woman in athletic wear run past the Colosseum in Rome

Though Spain currently occupies the top spot on Bloomberg’s Global Health Index, Italy ranks a close second on the list of the world’s healthiest countries. That means a baby born in Italy today can expect to live into their 80s.

The Global Health Index ranks 169 economies based on life expectancy, causes of death, environmental factors, and health risks, including malnutrition, high blood pressure and obesity. Using a variety of factors, each country is given a rating out of a possible top score of 100. Italy, which occupied ranked number one in 2017 and 2018, scored 91.59 in 2021.

With scores of 91.44, 91.38 and 90.93, respectively, the other three countries in the top five are Iceland, Japan, and Switzerland.

So, what makes Italians so healthy? Despite an abundance of pasta and pizza, the Italian diet is rich in fruit, vegetables, lean meat, legumes, fresh fish, and olive oil. These foods are a big part of the Mediterranean diet, considered to be one of the best for good cardiovascular and brain health.

Extra virgin olive oil, in particular, lowers low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol and may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. So, it may come as no surprise that the average Italian consumes more than 8 liters of olive oil per year.

In addition to diet, Italians also enjoy a healthy lifestyle in which outdoor activities like walking and hiking are commonplace. And it’s not just traditional exercise, Italians are very active as they go about their day — from riding bikes to work to walking to the grocery store. 

Finally, the country’s high-quality public health care system plays a big role in making it one of the world’s healthiest countries. Mostly paid for through taxes, the system provides families access to a pediatrician at no cost until a child turns 14.

If you already find yourself drawn to its delicious cuisine, beautiful landscapes and inspiring art and architecture, you can now add healthy lifestyle to the many benefits of life in Italy.